The Theology of Scientific Naturalism

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Book Review

51EgIT4kxEL._SL75_.jpgWhen I picked up Cornelius Hunter’s Science’s Blind Spot: The Unseen Religion of Scientific Naturalism, I expected the “unseen religion” of the title to refer in some way to atheistic naturalism itself. Whether naturalism is a form of religion depends on definitions. If religion is defined as a system of beliefs involving the supernatural, then naturalism certainly doesn’t fit the description. Some, however, define it as any system of belief regarding where we came from, what is ultimately real, and what is finally important  or (per Paul Tillich) of ultimate concern. That definition’s wide scope could certainly include naturalism.

I was expecting Hunter to argue that naturalism was religious by the latter, looser definition. I was wrong. His claim was bolder than that, more potentially controversial—yet at the same time more founded in fact, and less in loosely controllable preferences regarding meanings of words. Scientific naturalism, says Hunter, was explicitly born from within the family of Christian theology, and dwells even now in buildings erected on the same ancestral property. We think of naturalism as rejecting religion, but it was actually historically rooted in it, and it seems to have difficulty running away from it.

Hunter traces two streams in intellectual history, rationalist and empiricist. Aristotle was the rationalist above all other philosophers. In early modern philosophy, Descartes supremely represents that stream. Francis Bacon, considered by many to be the founder of scientific methodology, represents empiricism—not that anyone is a pure example of either rationalism or empiricism, for no person has ever occupied the extreme endpoints of the continuum between the two.

How are the two distinguished from each other? I’ll come back to rationalism in a moment. Empiricism (in this context) is an approach which lets empirical evidences rule over scientific conclusions, with as little regard for metaphysical preconceptions as possible. Hunter’s attitude toward empiricism is perhaps best explained through his depiction near the end of the book (p. 137), in a section titled “An Alternative to Rationalism:”

The empirical approach is much less certain about the form of the result. And at the end of the investigation, it is less certain about the truthfulness of the result. Problems are complicated, and humanity is not always up to solving them completely. The empirical approach is not as tidy as the rational approach. But it also does not constrain itself to predetermined notions. It is more amenable to new and unexpected results.

All of this sounds like standard scientific reasoning. It echoes Intelligent Design opponents’ voices calling us all not to rush to conclusions, not to be in a great rush to fill in the gaps with God. Intelligent Design, they say, is built around a predetermined belief in God, and marshals all its evidence only toward that end.

But just as the empirical approach is not as tidy as the rational approach, so the history of ideas is not as tidy as many mistakenly think it is. Hunter introduces rationalism with this (pp. 11-12):

The assumption of naturalism in science is … a consequence of metaphysical reasoning, and the implications for science are profound…. naturalism provides science with well-defined universal criteria to which it conforms. Instead of merely following the data wherever it may lead, science already has a framework in place. The answer, to a certain extent, is already in place. This is a move toward rationalism and away from empiricism. The result is that science has a powerful philosophy of science, but as we shall see… it does not come without cost…. naturalism brings with it a blind spot.

The rest of the book is about what I left out in the ellipses in that quote. Bear with me a moment before I fill in the blanks. I want us to think about the part of this that I have already quoted. Is it true that science is guided, even controlled, by an assumption of naturalism? Let’s acknowledge that there is no such thing as “science” to be monolithically governed by one stream of thought. Nevertheless it is still true that many of the most prominent spokespersons insist that science treat the natural world as if it is all that exists. God and the supernatural, they insist, either do not exist, or if they do, they are useless or irrelevant as far as science is concerned.

If this is the case, as Hunter says and I think we all must agree, is it a “move … away from empiricism”? Of course it is. God’s non-existence has not been and cannot be proven in the lab or the field. Or is naturalism a necessary assumption for science—that the scientist must at least be a practical atheist? Some would say so, but this is just not at all the case. It’s based on completely mistaken or ad hoc assumptions about God. Any person who says that all knowledge should come by way of science, and that he or she is quite sure there is no God at work in the world, speaks a contradiction.

This is all fairly familiar. What Hunter surprisingly adds to it is the historical roots for the naturalism that is common within science. Let me fill in some of those ellipses now, with emphasis added:

The assumption of naturalism in science is neither a result of atheistic influence nor an empirically based scientific finding.

Theological naturalism provides science with well-defined universal criteria to which it conforms.

Theological naturalism brings with it a blind spot.

Do you see now why I chose to introduce the topic at a gradual pace? Things could get confusing here. What on earth is “theological naturalism”? Isn’t that a self-contradictory concept?

No, it’s not, for though the naturalism that reigns in science today may be atheistic, it is unabashedly theological in nature. And in its historical beginnings its theology was even Christian, in a way. It wasn’t good Christian theology, but it was certainly theology in a Christian tradition.

In 1671 the Anglican chaplain Thomas Burnet wrote that the world was filled with majesty and grandeur yet also with “incredible confusion” and (as Hunter adds in his words, page 52) “lack of symmetry and proportion:”

From a distance the mountains were awe inspiring, but up close there were irregular rocks, moraines, and valleys. Maps and atlases portrayed well-ordered and symmetrical mountains, but Burnet found them to be “shapeless and ill-figured.”

To Burnet this did not seem like the kind of thing God would design. In fact, in 1681 he wrote (Hunter, p. 20),

We think him a better Artist… that makes a Clock that strikes regularly at every hour from the Springs and Wheels which he puts in the work, than he that hath so made his Clock that he must put his finger to it every hour to make it strike.

Hunter goes on to explain,

In other words, special divine action should be minimized. It is better for God to make a self-sufficient machine than to make one needing divine intervention.

This Anglican writing more than 300 years ago sounds astonishingly similar to Francisco Ayala today, who insists that God must be absent from nature, or else evil has no explanation. Or to Ken Miller, who cannot believe God would want to take credit for the mosquito. Or to Ian Barbour, who said (p. 120),

There seem to be too many blind alleys and extinct species and too much suffering and waste to attribute every event to God’s specific actions.

Or even to Darwin, who could not understand why (p. 121),

the supposed creative force produced bats and no other mammals on remote islands? … Facts, such as these … admit of no sort of explanation on the ordinary view of independent creation.

It sounds like Douglas Futuyma today, who (in Hunter’s paraphrase, p. 135) cannot believe God would have created nature so “full of useless features, inadequate design, shoddy workmanship, and harshness or cruelty”? Or evolutionary biologist George C. Williams who thinks a real God would have made better use of the sun (p. 133):

Why, then, would it be so far away, and why would it be enormously larger than the earth? This makes for a wasteful design…. Williams suggests a precisely shaped and brightly polished reflector mounted behind the sun to reflect wasted light upon the earth. As it is, the real earth-sun system “shows no such evidence of purposive engineering.”

One could easily ridicule a sentiment like that, but it would be grossly unfair to do so without having the context in which WIlliams said it. Instead we need to focus on this: Are these not theological arguments? Do they not presuppose a certain view of God? From whence within science does such a view of God come? The answer, of course, is nowhere; it does not come from within science. Historically it came from theologians in the Christian tradition: Thomas Burnet along with Ralph Cudworth, John Ray, Thomas Wolleston, Peter Annet, Charles Kingsley, and others, all of whom taught a view of God that they thought was Christian, and which required God to keep his hands off of his creation. This was not a Biblical view, but it was a view about God, propounded by men who actually believed in such a God. Naturalism was born in theology. Its parentage remains evident.

The “blind spot” spoken of in the title is scientific naturalism’s unawareness of its theological heritage. And it is also its diseased inability to see the possibility—not the certainty or proof, which Hunter does not consider to be in the purview of science, but the possibility—of a designer involved in nature. His arguments for design are well stated, yet they are also familiar, so I will not spend time on them here. More important is the gentle way he opens the philosophical door to the possibility of thinking of design. The alternative to rationalism Hunter espouses is aptly named moderate empiricism. We have met it already, in the first quote I provided near the beginning of this review. It’s a humble approach to knowledge. Unlike naturalism, it does not assume it sees all there is to see. It does not blind its eyes to the possibility of unexpected ultimate explanations.

There are flaws in this book. Several sentences and paragraphs in the early chapters could have used a copy editor’s review (which is surely often the case with my blogging, too, but a blog post just can’t go through as many cycles of review and revision as should be done with a book). Somehow that all seemed to diminish in the middle and end of the book, and I found myself less often needing to re-read, or wishing I could re-write something Hunter had said. The overall structure and flow could be more logical. There is a reason I started this review by quoting from near the end of the book.

Still I’m glad I pushed on through the awkward constructions and the somewhat strange sequence of topics. By the end of the book, Hunter had made his argument superbly clear, and along the way he provided persuasive evidence. If he is right, then naturalism is not just a blind spot: it is an inescapably theological blind spot.

34 Responses

  1. I think this is a hypocritical position to take on epistemology.

    What you are saying is that naturalism is like using a net with one-inch holes in it to look for fish, and concluding that there are no fish in the sea smaller than the holes in the net. That is, one ought to be aware of the limits of one’s tools and methodologies (in this case, false negatives). And I totally agree with that sentiment.

    However, the sentiment applies far more strongly to your own epistemology. You are ignoring false positives. If you use a superstitious methodology, you’ll just reinforce your initial belief because you insulate yourself from disconfirmation. Voodoo practitioners are going to see confirmation of their beliefs because they’re superstitious. Superstition (defined as dodgy sampling, lack of control, and amplification of bias) is a recipe for self-delusion.

    Naturalism does not rule out God a priori. Naturalism is in the business of inferring the existence of larger patterns from smaller patterns. God is a pattern of regularities because God has attributes and personality. The only way God will escape the net of naturalism is if God is (1) so capricious that it is impossible to see any pattern to his acts, and (2) if he hides from us by affecting the world below the natural noise level (as in human bias, or in gaps in knowledge, for example). In other words, only a very small God will escape the net.

    There are other limitations to our methodology, such as limitations on semantic meaning in language. Yet, ordinary language philosophy isn’t something that interests traditional theists in the slightest.

    So, let’s agree that even the most rational and careful of us have methodological limitations. How is it then rational to toss aside our rational ways and claim any specific X exists when it is beyond our methodological limitations to justify the belief? And if we do this, why not say Y and Z also exist, whether they be teapots in Martian orbit or invisible pink unicorns?

    Note that in the ID debate, evolutionary biology doesn’t rule out a designer, but it does make the likelihood of there being a designer extraordinarily small. There’s simply no pattern in the alleged design. Designs have a purpose and a style, but this isn’t what ID theorists hang their hat on. They hang their hat on the gaps in the net or the false positives. If ID is a valid inference, it needs to catch what it’s looking for in a net of some kind. But when you ask the ID folk about the larger pattern, they refuse to state what that pattern might be.

    Yes, many of the founders of Western science over the centuries wrote about how their science fit into their theology. In their day, it was thought that one could not be a good person unless one was religious, and I bet many of these scientists thought they were good people! They had to fit their work into a theology because the alternative was untenable in their culture. Also, the theory they were competing against was “God just did it that way!”

    But the effect these scientists had was to find basic principles for inferring larger patterns from smaller patterns, all the while escaping traps of false negatives, false positives, and personal bias. There’s nothing inherently theological about this methodology. Superstition is a natural tendency for humans, and it’s just backwards to give credit for the emergence of reason to the superstitions from which it emerged.

  2. Holopupenko says:

    DL:

    Your ignorance (or imposition of presuppositions) has again amazed me:

    Naturalism does not rule out God a priori. Naturalism is in the business of inferring the existence of larger patterns from smaller patterns. God is a pattern of regularities because God has attributes and personality.

    First, if naturalism (as you yourself have stated) is (crudely) about explaining/interpreting natural phenomena (let’s leave aside the false starter of strong naturalism that asserts a priori ONLY natural things exist), what possible epistemological connection/insight could naturalism provide for the supernatural Being (God) or natural (albeit immaterial) beings such as angels?

    Second, Psalm 19:1 (and other references) notes that creation reveals the “patterns” (boy, I had to LOL at that one!) pointing to the Creator. Of course, this is revealed knowledge, but it is not a mystery like, say, the Trinity or the Incarnation. If you want a bit of Christian dogma (authoritative teaching) that may surprise you (whether you agree with it or not, whether you want to follow the evidence or not): the existence of God is knowledge that can be reasoned to by humans without the assistance or revealed knowledge. It is YOUR own a priori, unscientific, self-imposed epistemological and philosophical constraints (including positivism, naturalism, scientism, idealism, etc.) that stifle your ability to follow a reasoned argument.

    All so ironic, while we stand on the same side of the ID debate (you’ve mischaracterized–again–ID theory, by the way), we do so for different reasons: it is not science qua science that determines the existence of God (which the IDer’s try to do) but philosophical reflection upon scientific data. To believe one can employ science by itself to reason to or disprove the existence of God is not just ignorance–it’s stupid.

    Here’s another really ignorant claim of yours: “ordinary language philosophy isn’t something that interests traditional theists in the slightest.” You’ve got to be kidding, right? How about some evidence to back that up? How about not insulting Austin, Wittgenstein, and others? This “traditional theist” studied and was encouraged by this early strain of analytic philosophy… although we understand its limitations as well. Sheesh!

    I strongly suggest you reexamine your own personal, subjective superstitions and shamanism…

  3. woodchuck64 says:

    Well, there’s some irony for you. The same Christian tradition that is touted as giving birth to science by “de-animizing nature” is also what contributed to science’s naturalistic bent (if Cornelius Hunter is correct).

  4. Holopupenko says:

    “touted” Woodchuck? There’s plenty of literature out there to support it, and–as far as I can tell–nothing to seriously challenge it. Point one.

    Point two: believe it or not, the naturalism that (partly) arose out of the illicit Reformation “plain meaning” Scriptural hermeneutic (which also influenced Newton in the direction of a reductionist mechanistic view of reality) hand-in-hand with Nominalism (Ockham was greatly admired by Luther) are, along the same lines of irony, what (partly) animates hard IDers who try to seek God through science. ID is neither good science nor good theology, and it is somewhat misguided philosophy. On the other hand, it doesn’t merit the mischaracterizations heaped upon it by secularists… because it does, at least, point to something important.

  5. dl,

    In other words, only a very small God will escape the net.

    Well depending on how you’d like to define the net, lots of things will escape it. Methodological naturalism can be a good net for catching truths about matter in motion. It is an impotent net for catching truths about God, souls, yourself (not your body), mathematics, and logic.
    Two questions:
    1. Do you prefer to use only certain nets in pursuit of truth?
    2. How do you decide which ones to use?

  6. Thomas,

    Under my definition of naturalism, something is natural if it is regular, repeatable, predictable, etc. I take an epistemological approach, not an ontological approach. The natural world does not only include physical regularities, but computational regularities, like logic and mathematics. Start from certain axioms (rules for manipulating symbols), and certain theorems will follow reliably. Physicalism is natural by this definition, but naturalism is a broader, finer net.

    Since I have laid my cards on the table, why don’t you do the same? What is your methodology, and how does it avoid logical fallacies and the fact of human bias? How do you avoid false positives and irrational inferences?

    Because I can tell you that I see a non-stop stream of bias from Christians every day.

    * Christians claim prayer is working by eliminating controls, and drawing bulls-eyes around events after the fact.

    * Christians are selectively gullible. They are not even-handed in their epistemology. Christians believe evolutionary biology is a conspiracy, but reject other conspiracy theories like Apollo hoax, 9/11 truth movement, or UFO abduction.

    * Christians keep referring to the Bible as if it is equivalent to multiple independent sources, which it isn’t. It’s a single, extremely-biased source.

    * Christians are consistently guilty of the placeholder fallacy. Most of the time you can replace “God’s will” or “the mind of God” with “fate” and have exactly the same explanatory power (i.e., none). Christians are prediction-phobic, and when they do make predictions, they don’t control their predictions rendering them ridiculous.

    Christians are placing their special fish into the net before they cast it, and acting all smug when the fish are still there when it’s drawn in. It’s a recipe for believing what you want to believe instead of believing what is actually true.

  7. SteveK says:

    DL,

    Christians believe evolutionary biology is a conspiracy

    Pfft!! Christianity, not individual Christians, teaches that there’s more to the development of life than what evolutionary biology can discover or demonstrate. Your statement here implies that Christian’s reject what biology can demonstrate, and I don’t think that is the case generally speaking.

    Do Christian’s reject some of the things that most biologists agree upon but cannot demonstrate to be true? Sure, but that’s not the definition of a conspiracy believer. If that’s the definition of conspiracy believer then you are also one because you don’t believe in what Christianity teaches, but cannot demonstrate to be true.

  8. Tom Gilson says:

    doctor(logic), this is fairly idiosyncratic:

    Under my definition of naturalism, something is natural if it is regular, repeatable, predictable, etc. I take an epistemological approach, not an ontological approach.

    And it’s also not the same topic that Hunter was speaking of in his book, or that I was speaking of in my review. “Naturalism” in that context means that there is no God, or if there is, then he does not insert himself into the natural flow of events. Matter and energy and their interactions are all that there is, or if not, then they are all that happens on the plane where humans interact.

    Since I have laid my cards on the table, why don’t you do the same? What is your methodology, and how does it avoid logical fallacies and the fact of human bias? How do you avoid false positives and irrational inferences?

    How do you avoid false negatives and the irrational inference that your epistemology can discover enough of reality to be truly adequate? You will only see a God god who is as regular as natural law. If there is some other kind of God (and there is) then you have guaranteed that you will never see him.

    How does your epistemology avoid the human hubris that will not permit the real God to reveal himself by methods of his own choosing?

    How does your epistemology avoid the bias of assuming that the regularity that exists is natural all the way down, that it does not have an ultimate divine source?

    Christians claim prayer is working by eliminating controls, and drawing bulls-eyes around events after the fact.

    Christians have a much bigger view of prayer than that. Yes, we do see and celebrate it when God answers. Do we take that as some kind of scientific study proving God’s existence? Do we think that’s what prayer is for? Where have you seen that said by Christians?

    Christians believe evolutionary biology is a conspiracy, but reject other conspiracy theories like Apollo hoax, 9/11 truth movement, or UFO abduction.

    No. Not even close. We do not think that some secret cabal in smoke-filled rooms conspires to foist some intentional lie on the rest of humanity. That’s what these other conspiracies you’ve mentioned entail. Christians (some of us, not all) believe that evolutionary biology is an entrenched position that perpetuates itself through the reward structures of the system (grad school admissions, hiring, tenure, grants, etc.). That’s not the same as a conspiracy. For a doctor, doctor(logic), you are not using nearly enough care with the meanings of words (see also “naturalism,” above).

    Christians keep referring to the Bible as if it is equivalent to multiple independent sources, which it isn’t. It’s a single, extremely-biased source.

    Do you have any anthologies on your bookshelf? Are they or are they not a collection of multiple sources?

    Christians are prediction-phobic, and when they do make predictions, they don’t control their predictions rendering them ridiculous.

    Christians are not prediction-phobic any more than you are snake-phobic. That is to say, there is a time and a place where predictions are good and proper, and a time and a place where they don’t belong. Snakes of a certain kind are great for the garden; snakes of another kind are bad in cribs. Predictions are of great use for the study of what is naturally and properly regular, but predictions (of the sort you have always insisted on, where you call for something like controlled experiments to prove the existence of God) are just out of place. But my snake-phobic analogy is misplaced, really, because the rattlesnake in the crib calls quite appropriately for fear, whereas the idea of subjecting God to predictive testing to prove his existence more appropriately calls for derision.

    You are blind, DL, to your own non-stop stream of bias, the bias that insists that God be provable by the same methods as planetary orbits. Take my advice: if you ever do think you discover such a god, for (the real) God’s sake don’t worship anything as puny as that! We certainly wouldn’t.

  9. Bill says:

    “Because I can tell you that I see a non-stop stream of bias from Christians every day.

    * Christians claim prayer is working by eliminating controls, and drawing bulls-eyes around events after the fact.

    * Christians are selectively gullible. They are not even-handed in their epistemology. Christians believe evolutionary biology is a conspiracy, but reject other conspiracy theories like Apollo hoax, 9/11 truth movement, or UFO abduction.

    * Christians keep referring to the Bible as if it is equivalent to multiple independent sources, which it isn’t. It’s a single, extremely-biased source.

    * Christians are consistently guilty of the placeholder fallacy. Most of the time you can replace “God’s will” or “the mind of God” with “fate” and have exactly the same explanatory power (i.e., none). Christians are prediction-phobic, and when they do make predictions, they don’t control their predictions rendering them ridiculous.”

    What exactly is the point of posting a long string of obvious fallacies on a website where everyone knows they are a long string of obvious fallacies and Tom will make a fool of you by demonstrating that.

    I mean go to infidels.org where this kind of straw man argumentation is considered high art. It’s a waste of bandwidth here.

  10. Tom,

    I agree. If someone simply says “My philosophy is founded on the premise that there are no non-physical agents,” then that person is an idiot. So, who is Hunter talking about?

    There’s no a priori reason why a non-physical agent can’t be as regular and predictable as Butch. A poteriori, there is no God in sight, so you create a religion around a God who’s invisible to natural methods. Didn’t have to be that way, Tom.

    How do you avoid false negatives and the irrational inference that your epistemology can discover enough of reality to be truly adequate?

    Truly adequate for what?

    Knowing absolutely everything? Then, no. Yes, I have to admit that, being rational, I can be tricked. Supply me with false evidence, and you’ll dupe me. You got an alternative?

    Should it be impossible for aliens to hide their abductions from rational humans? No, it’s not impossible, and I don’t feel stupid for allowing the aliens to pull the wool over the eyes of rational agents like myself using their vastly superior technology. The thing I would feel stupid about is letting my fears make me abandon my own reason and objectivity.

    I would think that God would be aware of this, and act accordingly. Come out, come out wherever you are!

    Now, it’s your turn. Is your methodology adequate to prevent you from believing whatever you want to believe?

    Okay, that question was rhetorical. You know that your methodology is plainly not adequate, and that’s what is so surprising from someone like you with an education in psychology and statistics. I just don’t get it. I haven’t heard you deny the fact that humans have cognitive biases, but you just seem to ignore it. Your methodology is just a recipe for fooling yourself.

    “Believe in Jesus, and you start to see his works!”

    This is what churches flog, day in, day out, to a gullible public. They entice people into superstition. For the gullible (and usually disadvantaged) people they appeal to, the superstition is counted as proof and evidence of God.

    Just the other day you were talking about someone who asked God for a sign, and had several dreams about God. Gee, I didn’t see that one coming! Someone dreaming about something they are passionate about?

    But did you guys talk him out of it? Did you tell him that’s not unbiased evidence? Did you tell him that people dream about things they passionately wish for, so it’s a false positive? The dreams would be there anyway. Did you tell him that? I’m not an idiot. You can’t tell me Christians don’t take this as proof, or, at least, look the other way when others do.

    Since a rational and unbiased epistemology cannot see your hiding God, you’re going to chuck the epistemology because we might be missing out on knowing a God who hides from us in our own biases? You obviously think it’s better to fan the flames of personal bias, and take a chance that your biases are correct (so you can see your invisible God), than it is to think clearly and without bias.

    The idea that God grants your wishes and prayers is poison to the rationality of your entire enterprise. Don’t trick yourself into thinking God is acting on your behalf unless you’ve got the chops to back it up with controlled experiments. As a psychology major, you have to know that belief that God is starting your car engine on a frosty morning, or keeping your marriage intact might just bias your thinking across the board.

    Take my advice: if you ever do think you discover such a god, for (the real) God’s sake don’t worship anything as puny as that! We certainly wouldn’t.

    This is all bluster. Pretending you want God to stay hiding, all while wishing for his return in the verifiable sense of the term. I’m calling your bluff on this one.

    It’s just a coping mechanism for faith in a God who doesn’t exist. “His invisibility makes him all the more great!” Right. Like the aliens.

  11. woodchuck64 says:

    Tom:

    How do you avoid false negatives and the irrational inference that your epistemology can discover enough of reality to be truly adequate? You will only see a God god who is as regular as natural law. If there is some other kind of God (and there is) then you have guaranteed that you will never see him.

    How does your epistemology avoid the human hubris that will not permit the real God to reveal himself by methods of his own choosing?

    How does your epistemology avoid the bias of assuming that the regularity that exists is natural all the way down, that it does not have an ultimate divine source?

    Answering for myself, I see no reason for God to make it difficult for us to know him by forcing us to use unreliable methods (methods that yield false positives).

    But that belief heavily depends on my view that God can not be the least bit interested in testing, rewarding or punishing human behavior, given that he created humans and in so-doing defined exactly what they will do or won’t do in advance.

    But that belief is heavily dependent on my conclusion that “free will” is incoherent (how can I be free of what I really want to do?). So for me it all comes down to understanding how “free will” can make any sense and why it is not just an ad-hoc rationalization for intrinsic desires humans have to reward pro-society behavior and punish anti-society behavior (which not so coincidentally allows society to function smoothly). Important desires, useful desires, but ultimately no more rational than any other desire.

    If free will makes sense, the Christian God suddenly makes a lot more sense to me. But if not, neither does the concept of a god who tests, punishes, or rewards human beings. (A god indifferent to the behavior of humans is not disproven by this, though.)

    But free will is not at all the subject of your post, so I apologize for getting off topic.

  12. dl,
    Thanks for the reply. I’ll start by saying I’m not sure what you are talking about when you say you take an epistemological “approach” versus an ontological one. What is it that you are approaching, and why is it that you think you should choose between a theory of knowledge and a theory of being to get you there? This seems like a false dichotomy (or at least choice) to me, regardless of what you think you are “approaching”.

    Next, I’ll address your specific examples of bias in the behavior of Christians. I agree that you could find a self-professed Christian exhibiting some or all of those behaviors, but I don’t think that supports your thesis about supposed flawed Christian epistemology. What I think you are describing is not something essential to Christianity, but rather you are describing problems with human behavior. You cite bias as an obstacle to knowing truth (and I agree with you here), but your attempts to define certain “Christian phenomena” as evidence of bias I think is pretty weak.

    In each of the following examples I’ll grant the possibility that some Christians do as you describe, but that they need not, meaning that their faith in Christ does not require them to do so. I also think that Christian doctrine does not teach these things, but I don’t need that to get my argument going.

    * Christians claim prayer is working by eliminating controls, and drawing bulls-eyes around events after the fact.

    What I think you are driving at here is that when controlling for all other variables in a statistical study, there is nothing about the prayer of a believer that is efficacious for getting the desired result. Thus, the desired result is no more probable given the prayer. Therefore, pace the Christian claim, prayer is impotent. Would this accurately describe your view? If so, then I have a few comments in response.

    First, I will simply reject the notion that that is how Christians should (nor how they do, I speculate) know whether prayers are answered. Rather, they determine whether prayers have been answered based on what God tells them, in the form of the Holy Spirit. A child doesn’t determine whether his parents have answered the request to borrow the car by asking them over and over, he acquires this knowledge based on what his parents tell him.

    Furthermore, and just for clarification, on the Christian view prayer is not even conceived of as getting God to “do something” for the believer, as if invoking some ecto-plasma superpower that gets you what you want. Maybe I read too much into your objection, but isn’t this what you had in mind? But that is not even what the Christian means when she says she is praying. Rather, prayer is communication with God. So if you are communicating with God, then to borrow your words, prayer is “working”.

    One more point: it seems to me very much in doubt whether God would even permit affirmative answers to prayers of supplication to be statistically reliable as you so desire. In fact I think we have good reasons to think this is not true. Think about the potential consequences of this. If people knew the right equation for extracting (even probabilistically) the desired answer from God, would that make them more or less likely to pursue a relationship with Him through grace? I speculate that, given what we know of human nature, fewer would come to trust Christ as their savior, instead preferring to manipulate Him into giving them what they want in the here and now. But the clear message from Christ was that God desired us to enter into a restored relationship with Him and dying to ourselves, not to treat Him like a sugar daddy.

    * Christians are selectively gullible. They are not even-handed in their epistemology. Christians believe evolutionary biology is a conspiracy, but reject other conspiracy theories like Apollo hoax, 9/11 truth movement, or UFO abduction.

    Everyone can be and is selectively gullible at one point or another. Evolutionary biology is just as comfortable within Christian theism as it is within naturalism. The Bible does not address the mode in which God created. Either way, your example is illustrative of nothing about the doctrines of Christianity or the person of Christ, rather it says something about people.

    * Christians keep referring to the Bible as if it is equivalent to multiple independent sources, which it isn’t. It’s a single, extremely-biased source.

    This is simply false. The Bible is a collection of documents recorded (providentially, many Christians will claim) by several human authors over centuries. On what basis do you make your claim? Regardless, this is not evidence for any bias required of Christian epistemology.

    * Christians are consistently guilty of the placeholder fallacy. Most of the time you can replace “God’s will” or “the mind of God” with “fate” and have exactly the same explanatory power (i.e., none). Christians are prediction-phobic, and when they do make predictions, they don’t control their predictions rendering them ridiculous.

    Regarding the placeholder fallacy, which seems to be an argument against believing in supernatural explanations of things, it’s always seemed to me that these “god-of-the-gaps” accusations rest on circular reasoning:

    1. Whatever is not regular, predictable, and repeatable does not exist.
    2. Naturalism is that which studies what is regular, predictable, and repeatable.
    3. Therefore, if an explanation for a phenomenon exists, that explanation is regular, predictable, and repeatable (from 1 and 2).
    4. Therefore, there are no non-natural explanations (from 1 and 3).

    I see no reason to accept premise 1. It doesn’t seem to me that my existence is regular, predictable, or repeatable. Yet, I’m sure I exist.

    Regarding the objection that Christians are prediction-phobic, I have no idea what this means. I predict things on a regular basis, here are two examples: (a) the Patriots will win this weekend and (b) Jesus will return some day. Which is ridiculous, and why?

    Next, I’ll address my cards. My epistemology (as I’ve mentioned before) is best described as particularist, influenced by Chisholm and my namesake, Thomas Reid. I try and control for false negatives and false positives by seeking to know whichever of my beliefs that I find explicitly contradictory with other beliefs is worthy of ejection from my worldview. I attempt to consistently bring all this under the lordship of Christ through prayer, but fail many times. The process is not easy, but then, life isn’t simple. My metaphysic is dualist.

    Finally, I’d like to ask if you wouldn’t mind addressing my questions in comment #5.

  13. Holopupenko says:

    A poteriori, there is no God in sight, so you create a religion around a God who’s invisible to natural methods.

    You are truly a fool, DL — in the full, Biblical sense of the word (Psalm 14:1… and the rest of the Psalm).

    (Sorry, Tom, but that had to be said.)

    After all the dispelling of your straw men, that you still cling so desperately to your sophomoric scientism is far more a reflection upon you than upon Christian faith. Amazing.

  14. Thomas,

    1. Do you prefer to use only certain nets in pursuit of truth?
    2. How do you decide which ones to use?

    There are certain assumptions without which there is no truth or consistency. I accept those assumptions as if true.

    They are (1) consistency in the form of deductive logic, (2) inductive inference, and (3) my experiences (thoughts and sensations) are axioms of the system. To explain (3) a little further, if I intuit that X is true, then it is a fact that I intuit the truth of X, whether or not X is actually true. My thoughts and sensations are facts that are to be explained, if possible. Appearances are axiomatically true, even if the appearances are misleading.

    That’s the foundation. Beyond this, life is a matter of proposing additional axioms, and seeing if the overall system remains consistent. If I propose the axiom that the Sun will rise today, and it appears not to rise, then the axiom that the Sun will rise has to be discarded. Axioms that have worked in the past are treated as more reliable than axioms that are less well supported.

    Example: Assuming the axioms of geometry gets us to the theorems of geometry. Reliably. Every time we repeat the proofs, they come out the same way. Our uncertainty in mathematical results drops monotonically.

    Example: Assuming the axioms of Newtonian physics leads to equations of motion which are verified by experiment up to a certain precision. Going beyond this precision requires better axioms, like the axioms of quantum mechanics and relativity. Yet the evidence for Newtonian mechanics remains as strong as ever, within the bounds of the theory’s uncertainties and applicability.

    Science works in just this way, but it also acts to counter known human biases.

    I also hold that explanations must be more than just restatements of the thing to be explained. That entails predictions. No prediction, no explanation. And no placeholders, thank you.

    Why this method? It assumes the least, and begs the fewest questions. It does not assume monism, materialism, physicalism, or any other major philosophical conclusion.

    What does it miss? Strong solipsism, in which appearances can’t even be trusted as false appearances. It probably misses certain inconsistencies and paradoxes, if they actually exist. However, if either of those are the case, we won’t get anywhere with reason anyway.

  15. Thomas,

    1. Whatever is not regular, predictable, and repeatable does not exist.

    Like you, I would dispute (1). I’m perfectly comfortable with some stuff in our universe being unpredictable. However, such events would not be explanatory, but just brute, random facts.

    Consequently, (2), (3) and (4) still hold.

    It doesn’t seem to me that my existence is regular, predictable, or repeatable. Yet, I’m sure I exist.

    I would disagree with this. I think you would consider billiard ball physics to be regular, predictable, repeatable, etc. Yet we have never repeated the exact same shot twice. The felt changes slightly over time, as do the billiard balls. And the pool queues and the chalk at their tips is never quite the same. No billiard ball has had the same journey from the factory to your table. The point about the regularity is that there are, within certain boundaries of uncertainty, regular behaviors and conservation rules.

    You will die without water, you like to read books, you like Christian philosophy, etc. Your voice stays relatively constant. You can be harmed by drugs, bullets and bacteria, just like other humans. You have had a unique history, just like every billiard ball, but that doesn’t take much away from what is repeatable.

    I put it to you that if your personality were modified to the point that your friends and family would not recognize you, you would consider the old you to have ceased to exist.

  16. Holopupenko,

    You are truly a fool, DL — in the full, Biblical sense of the word (Psalm 14:1… and the rest of the Psalm).

    Wait? A bunch of superstitious, gullible, stone-throwing, spear-waving tribesmen from thousands of years ago say I am a fool? Gee, thanks for the compliment!

  17. Tom Gilson says:

    You need to read a chapter or two (maybe even 1 through 3) of The Everlasting Man before you so glibly toss aside that wisdom, you persistent fool.

    I’ll have to come back to the rest of this late this evening or tomorrow morning. We’re hosting a Truth Project session at our home this evening and there’s some getting ready to be done.

  18. SteveK says:

    The Truth Project is fantastic. Loved it. We had a lot of teens watching along with the adults. Some really good discussions were had.

  19. dl,

    I put it to you that if your personality were modified to the point that your friends and family would not recognize you, you would consider the old you to have ceased to exist.

    This doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t rely on other people’s understanding of me to know myself, rather I have knowledge of myself directly. The former is third person or second person knowledge, but there is only one person that can have first person knowledge of me – namely, me. So as long as I have this self-knowledge, I’m still around, and haven’t ceased to exist.

    Even you seem to recognize this, by postulating that my personality changes. But if my personality changes, it’s still me that experiences the change in personality. One person doesn’t cease to exist and a new person comes into existence.

    As you recognize in comment #14, this self-knowledge is real. But if you look for the self of which you have knowledge anywhere in your body, you won’t find it. Further, you won’t find your beliefs, feelings, thoughts, or sensations anywhere in your body. So now you have good reason to believe that you are an immaterial entity. But if you believe other people are like you, then you believe in the existence of other immaterial entities as well.

    But now, if there are real immaterial entities of which we can have knowledge, what epistemic barriers exist anymore to consider the existence of God, an immaterial entity? Plus, if you consider the methods by which you acquired knowledge of yourself and others, in what way was any of this “regular, predictable, and repeatable”? What do those adjectives mean in this context?

  20. Thomas,

    Okay, when you said you didn’t think your existence was regular or repeatable, I thought you meant your personality. It seems I misunderstood you. You meant instead that your conscious awareness exists without any regularity, predictability or repeatability.

    I think I might be able to agree with that. The problem with respect to epistemology is that your conscious awareness is completely content-free. Let me explain. You’re saying that even if everything you know turns out to be wrong, i.e., you change your personality, everything turns out to have been a visual and auditory hallucination, etc., you’ll still have your conscious awareness. Let’s suppose this is true. (I say suppose because it seems we can’t know this fact unless we extrapolate from a past history of having been mistaken or having lived through changes while retaining conscious awareness.) What, then, is the implication of conscious awareness? Can we conclude anything? If we eliminate any conclusion that relies on induction (i.e., if we disregard any regularities that guarantee the past being a guide to the future), then we can say nothing of the future at all. Just because 2+2=4 in the past would be no reason to assume 2+2 was still 4.

    But if you look for the self of which you have knowledge anywhere in your body, you won’t find it. Further, you won’t find your beliefs, feelings, thoughts, or sensations anywhere in your body.

    It sure seems like my self is in my body. How can you say it’s not in my body without begging the question?

    I think you would have a much better case for such a claim if, say, under anesthetic, I still had conscious awareness. Or if, say, astral projection worked.

    But if you believe other people are like you, then you believe in the existence of other immaterial entities as well.

    Other people are predictable regularities because properties and attributes are predictable regularities. I can only tell people from rocks because they have different regularities.

    And if I were to infer that others also have conscious awareness, it would by extrapolating from my own awareness-behavior to a rule that awareness leads to certain forms of behavior.

    But now, if there are real immaterial entities of which we can have knowledge, what epistemic barriers exist anymore to consider the existence of God, an immaterial entity?

    Although I have rejected your inference that human conscious awareness is immaterial, I don’t reject the possibility that there are other entities that are immaterial.

    I hope we can get past this. A non-physical being whose will is automatically implemented in matter is a perfectly well-formed theory as long as there’s some regularity to it. If there’s no regularity to it, then how would I possibly know it was there, or distinguish this being from randomness?

    It’s very easy for me to imagine Butch as a ghost, for example. Suppose Butch’s ghost can communicate with me via direct mind-to-mind communication. All I have to do to rationally believe in the ghost of Butch is to convince myself that his voice in my head is not a false positive. One way to do this is if Butch tells me things I could not possibly know otherwise, but which I can verify. If Butch can only tell me things that I already know, or will only tell me things that cannot be tested, then I have excellent reason to believe that Butch is just my subconscious, or that I am insane, etc.

  21. dl,

    I’ve read this a few times but still don’t understand your point:

    What, then, is the implication of conscious awareness? Can we conclude anything? If we eliminate any conclusion that relies on induction (i.e., if we disregard any regularities that guarantee the past being a guide to the future), then we can say nothing of the future at all.

    I’m afraid I just don’t grasp the question, “what is the implication of conscious awareness”. I have knowledge of my beliefs, perceptions, and thoughts. These are real items of knowledge. I suppose there could be innumerable implications of this, but I don’t see how that’s relevant to my point that there is knowledge we have that requires no testing of regularity, repeatability, or predictability.

    It sure seems like my self is in my body. How can you say it’s not in my body without begging the question?

    Good point, I wasn’t being clear enough here. I meant that you could use all the tools available via the scientific method in an attempt to find your thoughts, perceptions, and beliefs within your body, but you will not find them. Of course this doesn’t preclude the idea that you are contingently connected with your body, which is my position.

    I think you would have a much better case for such a claim if, say, under anesthetic, I still had conscious awareness. Or if, say, astral projection worked.

    Well in the case of the anesthetic, I would argue that the drugs inhibit your ability to use your brain in such a manner as to remember the experience later on. The person loses the ability to exercise certain capacities while the drugs course through the bloodstream, but regains these abilities later. But in no way does the person lose, for example, the capacity for thought (an essential property of humans, I would argue) at any point in time.

    Although I have rejected your inference that human conscious awareness is immaterial, I don’t reject the possibility that there are other entities that are immaterial.

    Although I haven’t seen much of an argument for rejecting this inference, I’m satisfied to hear that you think there could be immaterial entities.

    I hope we can get past this. A non-physical being whose will is automatically implemented in matter is a perfectly well-formed theory as long as there’s some regularity to it. If there’s no regularity to it, then how would I possibly know it was there, or distinguish this being from randomness?

    Sure, we can get past it. You’re free to have the last word. Again I have no idea what you demand of your self-knowledge when you desire to submit it to the rigors of “regularity”. I really don’t even know what that means in this context. You simply are aware of your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs – you cannot help but be aware of them. Indeed one presumes self-knowledge prior to embarking on any scientific testing for regularity of any kind.

  22. woodchuck64 says:

    Thomas Reid:

    You simply are aware of your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs – you cannot help but be aware of them.

    Asking for clarification, is your awareness of your thoughts, feelings, beliefs knowledge itself, or are the thoughts, feelings, beliefs themselves the knowledge? Reason I’m asking is to distinguish between the knowledge of “the rose is red” and “I am feeling aware of my belief that the rose is red”. I don’t see too much that qualifies as what we think of as knowledge in the second form.

  23. Dave says:

    Found in “Practical Rhetoric”, J. D. Quackenbos, 1896, p.133
    http://www.archive.org/stream/practicalrhetori00quacuoft#page/n3/mode/1up

    ” Consciousness is not merely mind in action, for there is no such thing as inactivity of mind, either in the sleeping or waking state. Consciousness is not equivalent to personal identity, which continues through states of unconsciousness (I am the same person in a swoon as before or after). Many philosophers have defined consciousness as a feeling; but we are conscious of a feeling ; hence they are guilty of a logical seesaw or circle. They define consciousness by feeling, and feeling by consciousness; that is, they explain the same by the same, and thus leave us no wiser. Others say that consciousness is a knowledge; and others again, that it is a belief or conviction of a knowledge. Here we have the same violation of logical law. Is there any knowledge or belief of which we are not conscious? There is not, there cannot be ; therefore consciousness is not contained under either knowledge or belief; but, on the contrary, knowledge and belief are both contained under consciousness. In short, the notion of consciousness is so elementary that it cannot be resolved into others more simple. It cannot, therefore, be brought under any genus, any more general conception, and consequently it cannot be defined. It may, however, be likened to a light, an inner illumination, by which all the phenomena of mind are made visible. Consciousness may thus be explained as the self-luminousness of mind.”

  24. Thomas,

    You simply are aware of your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs – you cannot help but be aware of them. Indeed one presumes self-knowledge prior to embarking on any scientific testing for regularity of any kind.

    I agree with this if you are careful in your definition of self-knowledge.

    I can say argue that my direct experiences are “knowledge”, but that “knowledge” is justified by a reductio. If we cannot trust our experiences (thoughts and direct sensations) qua experiences, then we cannot know anything at all, nor can we reason.

    However, when I say “self-knowledge” I mean knowledge of things about myself that are regular.

    My location in space is self-knowledge, but it’s not something I know infallibly. If I am mistaken about my location in space, I can still reason.

    I might self-know, for example, that I have difficulty resisting the temptation to eat cookies. Yet, just having had difficulty with cookies one time does not make it self-knowledge, if you see what I mean. Even the most disciplined cookie-lover might succumb to temptation once in a while, yet they would not describe their personality as “has difficulty resisting temptation of cookies.”

    In fact, even the knowledge that I had difficulty resisting the temptation of cookies a single time is an inference from a vast number of immediate thoughts and sensations that I have accumulated over the years. For example, infants don’t know what temptation is, even if they understand sweet, or cookie, or eat.

    So, even if I regard conscious awareness as infallible knowledge, it’s not self-knowledge in the sense of knowledge of my personality. Instead, conscious awareness consists of data points that can be used to create a picture of my personality (that picture emerging as a pattern of data points).

    Even if we make an exception for beliefs that are necessary for reasoning, God does not fall into that category. If God does not exist, we can still reason.

    I meant that you could use all the tools available via the scientific method in an attempt to find your thoughts, perceptions, and beliefs within your body, but you will not find them.

    I disagree with this. It’s difficult to find thoughts, perceptions and beliefs in a brain because the brain is so complex. However, I think this will be solved in time, perhaps using simulations of brains.

    Of course this doesn’t preclude the idea that you are contingently connected with your body, which is my position.

    You seem to be suggesting that the soul is connected to the body the way you might be connected to my cell phone by dialing my mobile number. No matter what I do to study my phone, I’ll never find you inside it. However, the corollary is that, if I find elements in the phone capable of generating the information you are providing, e.g., your memories and your ability to compute and predict, then I am justified in believing the phone is you.

    Your thesis is a perfectly plausible hypothesis… if we were living 500 years ago. 500 years ago, there was no reason to believe that humans needed central nervous systems, or brains, or memories in brains, or the ability to recognize or compute with neural networks in brains. All of those things might have been provided by the soul, but now we know they’re implemented in biological wetware.

    If the soul really exists, it should be possible for us to suspend the body, without suspending the soul. Otherwise, the soul becomes superfluous. My favorite example is Capgras delusion arising in some patients with brain injury. In these cases, patients have fully functional visual recognition, and fully functional emotional expression, but their brains lack a link between the two. This goes a step beyond sleeping or memory destruction or blindness. In this case, it’s the link between what you see and how you feel about what you see that has been broken. Well, if the brain is performing even sophisticated mental functions such as this, what is the soul doing for us?

    And why aren’t there zombies? Or if there are zombies, how will we know them?

    Now, it’s still possible that there’s a soul, but it’s a very peculiar sort of soul. It’s that very peculiar 1-in-a-billion kind that serves no functional purpose. Of all the souls we could conceive of, why should actual souls look exactly like no soul at all?

    We can imagine that water is motivated by non-physical water sprites, but we begin to doubt this when the water sprites are that queer kind of water sprite which is indistinguishable from a non-existent water sprite.

    Well in the case of the anesthetic, I would argue that the drugs inhibit your ability to use your brain in such a manner as to remember the experience later on. The person loses the ability to exercise certain capacities while the drugs course through the bloodstream, but regains these abilities later. But in no way does the person lose, for example, the capacity for thought (an essential property of humans, I would argue) at any point in time.

    There are some anesthetics that function by suspending long term memory, but not all of them work that way.

    Are you saying that there’s no such thing as unconsciousness?

    When you say we don’t lose the capacity for thought, do you mean this in the same sense that a car drained of gasoline doesn’t lose the capacity to run once it is refueled? Or do you mean it in the sense that the engine continues to run even without gasoline?

    And if consciousness does continue to operate when we are “unconscious”, what is it doing? Of what is it conscious?

    Suppose I ask you to solve a puzzle in your head. In repeated tests, the puzzle takes you 5 minutes. If I give you a puzzle, then anesthetize you, for 3 minutes, why should I not expect the answer to the puzzle after a total elapsed time of 5 minutes? Why can’t your consciousness be working on the puzzle while your brain sleeps?

  25. wc64,
    You asked this:

    Asking for clarification, is your awareness of your thoughts, feelings, beliefs knowledge itself, or are the thoughts, feelings, beliefs themselves the knowledge?

    I’ll give some examples of what I mean when I speak of self-knowledge. Suppose I think the square root of 4 is 2, believe love is a virtue, and perceive there to be a pink cow in front of me. Here then are a few items of self-knowledge:

    1. I know that I think the square root of 4 is 2.
    2. I know that I believe love is a virtue.
    3. I know that I perceive a pink cow in front of me.

    I have this knowledge irrespective of what the square root of 4 is, or whether love is a virtue, or whether there is a pink cow in front of me. For in statements 1-3 I have expressed knowledge about myself.

    Reason I’m asking is to distinguish between the knowledge of “the rose is red” and “I am feeling aware of my belief that the rose is red”. I don’t see too much that qualifies as what we think of as knowledge in the second form.

    First I honestly don’t know what it means to say that we feel we believe something. Our beliefs can cause us to feel a certain way, or we may choose to believe something on the basis of our feelings, but how can we feel we believe something? Are you saying a belief feels a certain way? What does that mean?

    Next, you wouldn’t deny that you know that you believe the rose is red, would you? How could you deny it? If you don’t know that you believe it (irrespective of whether the “it” is true), what makes you so sure that you believe it? To deny self-knowledge is to open yourself up I think to mental absurdity and to an extreme, if not incoherent, skepticism.

    dl,
    I’ll try to respond to your comment later today.

  26. woodchuck64 says:

    Thomas Reid:

    I’ll give some examples of what I mean when I speak of self-knowledge.

    I assume the self-knowledge you were referring to is something a philosphical zombie lacks (but not the self-knowledge described by DL as regular, repeatable). However, might not a p-zombie agree with this statement:

    1. I know that I think the square root of 4 is 2.

    but disagree with this statement:

    2. I am aware of a feeling of knowing that the square root of 4 is 2.

    I’m not sure of the appropriate terms for the attributes a p-zombie lacks or even if a p-zombie would disagree with either statement, but those are the attributes I meant in my original question to you.

  27. dl,
    It appears we agree that there is such a thing as self-knowledge, as I described it:

    Reid: You simply are aware of your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs – you cannot help but be aware of them. Indeed one presumes self-knowledge prior to embarking on any scientific testing for regularity of any kind.

    DL: I agree with this if you are careful in your definition of self-knowledge.

    So for a simple example of what I am talking about:

    (SK1) I know that I desire a cookie.

    Next you proceed to explain knowledge we have of our tendencies, which, when taken in aggregate, forms our personality. But now what you are talking about is:

    (SK2) I know that, typically, I desire cookies.

    Statements SK1 and SK2 are not the same, yet they are both items of self-knowledge. You are careful to explain how we come to know the second half of SK2 (“typically, I desire cookies”), but that is all beside, and completely consistent with, my point.

    Actually, what you are doing is reinforcing my point with another example. But you don’t know the truth of either SK1 or SK2 by mere predictability, regularity, or repeatability. You know it by introspection. Moving on:

    Reid: I meant that you could use all the tools available via the scientific method in an attempt to find your thoughts, perceptions, and beliefs within your body, but you will not find them.

    DL: I disagree with this. It’s difficult to find thoughts, perceptions and beliefs in a brain because the brain is so complex. However, I think this will be solved in time, perhaps using simulations of brains.

    Consider the world’s greatest ear doctor. She knows all possible functions of the eardrum, can trace and predict all electrochemical pulsations to and through the brain, and so on. But even with all that knowledge, she will still have no knowledge of what something sounds like. You believe that some day, through maximal knowledge of the physical processes that occur concurrently with hearing, that someone who is deaf will come to know what something sounds like. But frankly this seems like a chasm that cannot be crossed with knowledge of physical facts.

    Reid: Of course this doesn’t preclude the idea that you are contingently connected with your body, which is my position.

    DL: You seem to be suggesting that the soul is connected to the body the way you might be connected to my cell phone by dialing my mobile number. No matter what I do to study my phone, I’ll never find you inside it. However, the corollary is that, if I find elements in the phone capable of generating the information you are providing, e.g., your memories and your ability to compute and predict, then I am justified in believing the phone is you.

    Your thesis is a perfectly plausible hypothesis… if we were living 500 years ago.

    Well the external observer from 500 years ago might (initially) come to the erroneous conclusion that the phone is ensouled if he heard my voice transmitted through it, probably because he would be completely ignorant of electronics and cellular technology. But of course the dialer, regardless of whether he was familiar with the technology, wouldn’t conclude that the cell phone was his body, not even an essential part.

    My favorite example is Capgras delusion arising in some patients with brain injury. In these cases, patients have fully functional visual recognition, and fully functional emotional expression, but their brains lack a link between the two. This goes a step beyond sleeping or memory destruction or blindness. In this case, it’s the link between what you see and how you feel about what you see that has been broken. Well, if the brain is performing even sophisticated mental functions such as this, what is the soul doing for us?

    The soul is experiencing the seeing, and the feeling. The brain has been altered such that there is a dysfunctional relationship between the two. In spite of this dysfunction, the person can still have knowledge of what they perceive through sight, and knowledge of what they feel.

    And why aren’t there zombies? Or if there are zombies, how will we know them?

    I don’t know (although I doubt there are, as an inference from self-knowledge and the similarities exhibited by others), and I don’t know. Maybe Dan Dennett knows. But this is all irrelevant to my central point, which is that we have self-knowledge which does not come to us through any implementation of the scientific method.

    Are you saying that there’s no such thing as unconsciousness?

    No.

    When you say we don’t lose the capacity for thought, do you mean this in the same sense that a car drained of gasoline doesn’t lose the capacity to run once it is refueled? Or do you mean it in the sense that the engine continues to run even without gasoline?

    The former is a close analogy. Ultimately the car is not a simple substance, like the soul is. But insofar as we can conceive of the car as irreducible for the sake of discussion, a running engine does seem to be an essential part of a car. Similarly, the capacity for thought is an essential property of a human soul.

    And if consciousness does continue to operate when we are “unconscious”, what is it doing? Of what is it conscious?

    No. By definition, if we are unconscious, then we are not conscious. But this is primarily a third-person observation. Like I said, it’s possible that during periods of unconsciousness, the person is simply unable to use their brain in such a way as to remember anything once they regain consciousness. Or what might be happening is that the soul may simply lose it’s ability to exercise certain capacities such as thought for a period of time, and that causes certain physical phenomena to occur within the brain. Upon regaining consciousness, this ability returns. But the capacity was never lost.

    Nice talking with you DL. You can have the last word, as I fear we may have taken this thread too far off-topic from Tom’s original post.

  28. woodchuck64 says:

    Thomas Reid:

    Consider the world’s greatest ear doctor. She knows all possible functions of the eardrum, can trace and predict all electrochemical pulsations to and through the brain, and so on. But even with all that knowledge, she will still have no knowledge of what something sounds like.

    The problem here is in using “knowledge” in two different senses. Knowledge of the eardrum and auditory sciences provides the doctor with information that can be used to diagnose hearing problems or design hearing enhancement mechanisms. But the knowledge of what something sounds like, that is, the qualia of sound perception, is not useful for anything. It has no affect on anything, it just is.

    Rather than having two categories of knowledge, one useful and one useless, it seems better to me to refer to qualia as experience rather than knowledge.

    I don’t see the fact that I experience sound/color/pain/pleasure/etc as necessarily implying that I’m an immaterial entity. But I’m sure this is a topic that will come ’round again.

  29. Thomas,

    Sorry for the delay.

    Actually, what you are doing is reinforcing my point with another example. But you don’t know the truth of either SK1 or SK2 by mere predictability, regularity, or repeatability. You know it by introspection.

    It is well known that neural networks find patterns in experience, and make predictions from those patterns. Consider the concept of the cookie in SK1. Where did that come from? It came from the regularity of experiencing cookies during your childhood. Without that regularity, there would be no cookie for you to believe in because you would lack the concept of a cookie. If desires changed every microsecond, we would not have cognitive beliefs about them. So the idea that a desire can be static enough to form a belief about also says something about the regularity and predictability of desires.

    An infant who lacks the regular experiences necessary to form the concepts in SK1, is incapable of thinking SK1.

    So, any aspect of SK1 that is known without predictability, regularity or repeatability, it is utterly without content. The part of SK1 that can be known without reference to regularity is something like “I hear my inner monologue express SK1, whatever SK1 means.”

    One could make the case that an infant could believe “I see something red” without reference to a regularity. However, our species’ ability to recognize red is conditioned by evolution, and evolution took this course only because there is a regularity that can be leveraged.

    If we lay our cards on the table… dualists want to lay down terms that they think are irreducible. Introspection, intentionality, aboutness, will, morality, evil, etc. A whole zoo of things that science cannot explain because these terms don’t reduce to anything else.

    There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the idea that some of these things are properly basic, but when does it ever make sense to argue for such a thing?

    When we see an explosion, we don’t say that explosions are properly basic, and just look for the physical correlates of explosions. We don’t just consider H2O physics as a physical correlate of water. Instead, we make an identification between what we see with the naked eye (or naked brain), and what we see with instrumentation and inductive reasoning.

    We know what thinking is like to the naked brain, but why should we stop there? Why think that beliefs are properly basic? If explosive chemistry predicts the explosion, why do we need to believe in a properly basic explosion?

    Beliefs in properly basic entities are just placeholders for explanations we don’t yet have.

    Consider the world’s greatest ear doctor. She knows all possible functions of the eardrum, can trace and predict all electrochemical pulsations to and through the brain, and so on. But even with all that knowledge, she will still have no knowledge of what something sounds like.

    True, but why is this unexpected? Dennett talks about this. The doctor does learn something new when she hears sound for the first time. She knows she can hear, and she knows what her aural instrumentation’s response to the sound is, what memories are triggered by the inputs, and what emotions are stirred, etc.

    You believe that some day, through maximal knowledge of the physical processes that occur concurrently with hearing, that someone who is deaf will come to know what something sounds like.

    This is a bit like saying that “through science, the deaf person will know that they can hear,” which is not my position at all.

    But of course the dialer, regardless of whether he was familiar with the technology, wouldn’t conclude that the cell phone was his body, not even an essential part.

    If we take the batteries out the cell phone and the dialer loses consciousness, or if tweak the cell phone and the dialer flies into a rage, wouldn’t we all start suspect that the cell phone was an essential part of the dialer’s mind/body?

    In other words, just take the two hypotheses: we are a material mind, or we are a material body connected to a non-material mind. The first hypothesis fits the data from the last 500 years. The second doesn’t.

  30. Holopupenko says:

    “we are a material mind, or we are a material body connected to a non-material mind”

    An ignorant false dichotomy… and is part of what leads to the repugnant dehumanizing reductionism of “humans are material mechanisms.”

  31. Tom Gilson says:

    DL, the first hypothesis fits the data collected by means designed to collect materialistic data. All you ever talk about in terms of acquiring knowledge, dl, is how one can get it by means suited to materialistic results. Your incessant and iconoclastic (read, “wrong”) hammering on predictability as the sine qua non for knowledge can only have one result: blindness to that which doesn’t fit your paradigm. Or a torturous Procrustean twisting of your own knowledge of your own experience to make it fit.

    I have no hope of making you see it otherwise. I can only hope that other readers are not taken in by it.

  32. Tom,

    I have no hope of making you see it otherwise.

    Sure you do. You could give me reasons.

    Procrustean bed? Some things that might exist are irrational for us to believe in without evidence, but that’s not a license to be irrational, is it?

    You might have a twin brother who writes half your posts, and your name might not even be Tom. But the impossibility of my rationally believing these alternatives on present evidence doesn’t indicate a fault with my method.

    It’s as if you think that any methodology that doesn’t permit you to believe in a hidden God (or moral realism, etc) is flawed in some way.

    Here’s what rationality is:

    * Deduction, and the elimination of contradiction. Following axioms to conclusions.
    * Induction, inferring the axioms about the way the world works from experience and probability.
    * Trust in experience qua experience.

    There’s no rational thought without these assumptions.

    Clearly, you think induction isn’t the only way to obtain axioms. You think you can know axiom Z just by, well, knowing Z. You think Z is self-evident. But this is belief, not knowledge. Whatever methodology you add for knowing axioms has to survive the acid of rationality.

    I would like to see you give a map of your epistemology. What are your first principles? I would expect to see deduction and non-contradiction in there somewhere, but what else do you accept as necessary to any methodology for knowing?

    At this point, I doubt you have first principles. I suspect you have conclusions which you think seem right, and you think that mere reflection on what seems right constitutes rational justification.

  33. Holopupenko says:

    A priori unscientific, pseudo-philosophical “first principle” (cough) of DL (i.e., his personal epistemology): ONLY material things exist; ONLY scientistic assumptions count; no other reasons are necessary, no other reasons are accepted. I, DL, define what counts as “reasons.”

    The usual narrow-minded, “forget the evidence that doesn’t fit my paradigm,” Intellectually straight-jacketed nonsense.

  34. Bilbo says:

    Tom,

    I just read your review, which was referred to at a discussion at telicthoughts. This explains Hunter’s blog. If only he had blogged about theological naturalism first, and then referred to it every time he wanted to talk about evolution being religion, it would have avoided much misunderstanding. From your review, I get the impression Hunter puts off the punchline in his book as well. Makes me want to slap him across the side of the head. Nevertheless, it sounds like a book worth reading.